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PH and Singapore Hold 1st Defense Policy Consultations

Having a deeper understanding of each other's positions on various issues underpinned the 1st Philippines-Singapore defense policy consultations which was held on February 15, 2016 in Singapore. A direct result of the bilateral meeting between Secretary of National Defense Voltaire Gazmin and Singapore's Defense Minister Ng in 2014 when the two ministers agreed to hold defense policy dialogue between the two ministries, Assistant Secretary Raymund Quilop and Deputy Secretary for Policy Keith Tan shared perspectives on engaging the US and China, updated each other on developments in the West Philippine Sea and consulted on various matters related to the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting.

Both officials shared the sense that strategic competition between the US and China is expected to intensify in the foreseeable future. Amidst this backdrop of an intensified competition is how Southeast Asian states could help maintain regional peace and stability by sustained engagement with the US and China. Singapore acknowledged that Southeast Asian's defense engagement with China has lagged behind the economic interdependence between China and ASEAN, hence the need for deeper defense engagement with Beijing. The Philippines stressed that its recent Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the US is Manila's contribution to regional stability considering that US presence in the region remains to be a linchpin of stability in the Asia-Pacific.

Meanwhile the Philippines stressed China's building of artificial islands including the recent test flights on those man-made islands as well as China's issuing warning to Philippine aircraft undertaking routine patrols over the Philippines' air and maritime domains is a cause of concern for the entire region. Singapore suggested that trilateral exercises among the US, China and other states directly involved in the issue could help build confidence and prevent the dispute from turning into actual conflict.

The two defense officials likewise apprised each other of positions of their respective defense ministries regarding matters that are most likely to be taken up in the upcoming meeting of the ASEAN's defense senior officials in Laos later in February. These include the Japan's proposal for a second ADMM-Japan informal meeting, Moscow's invitation for an ADMM informal meeting with the Russian defense minister in late April as well as Australia's suggestion to hold the ADMM-Plus annually from current frequency of convening the ADMM-Plus every two years.

Finally, ASEC Quilop and Deputy Secretary Tan explored mechanisms on how to further deepen PH-Singapore defense relations, with the Philippines expressing confidence and satisfaction that notwithstanding that the two countries are still to forge a defense cooperation agreement, exchanges and defense interaction between Manila and Singapore are robust. A defense cooperation agreement would be a useful framework of cooperation but its absence should not prevent the Philippines and Singapore from undertaking defense cooperative activities, both officials stressed.